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McFarling: Salem's drop in class no reason to feel low

December 14, 2020

Aaron McFarling/Roanoke Times Dec 12, 2020 The last time we saw professional baseball at Salem Memorial Ballpark, we were being awed by the power of Boston Red Sox prospect Triston Casas. For a whopping two games. Now rated as the No. 1 prospect in the organization, Casas spent almost the

Aaron McFarling/Roanoke Times

Dec 12, 2020

The last time we saw professional baseball at Salem Memorial Ballpark, we were being awed by the power of Boston Red Sox prospect Triston Casas.

For a whopping two games.

Now rated as the No. 1 prospect in the organization, Casas spent almost the entire 2019 season at Low A Greenville, where he smashed 19 home runs over 118 games to tie for third in the South Atlantic League. Then he was promoted to Salem on Sept. 1, where he collected two hits in his first game and hit a majestic home run in his second.

And then the regular season ended.

On Wednesday, when the Boston Red Sox officially extended invitations to their four minor league affiliates, there were two major components of local interest:

1. Salem was among the four.

2. Salem was moving from High A to Low A.

The first one was expected. The Sox are owned by Fenway Sports Group, which is a subsidiary of the Boston Red Sox ownership group. The team signed a 10-year ballpark lease extension with the city in 2015. Salem never was in serious jeopardy of losing its affiliation, even as Major League Baseball cut the minors from 160 teams to 120 in a massive cost-saving restructuring.

The second component, though, was news that might have concerned diehard baseball fans who want to see the best talent. It shouldn’t. A move to Low A actually could be a good thing.

“Going to Low A really just gives us an opportunity to get first crack at the prospects that Boston has,” Salem general manager Allen Lawrence said. “I think that’s exciting, and I think that’s going to be exciting for our fans.

“While there’s still a lot of hype coming from these players after the Major League Baseball draft, we’re now going to get the first crack at them. We don’t have to sit back and wait for a year and see how they progress.”

And they could stay here longer. Mookie Betts played 76 games at Greenville before his scintillating 51-game stint with Salem in 2013. Anthony Rizzo played 85 games at Low A compared to 84 with Salem.

And then there’s Casas, who was named Boston’s 2019 minor league player of the year at age 19. There’s a decent chance he would have started 2020 at Salem had the season been played, but there’s almost no chance he would have stayed long enough to log as many games here as he did for Greenville.

“You’re trying to get them as fast as possible to the major league level because there’s economic advantages to that,” said Jeff White, the managing director of the Salem Red Sox. “I think it’s fair to say it’s become more of a younger man’s game than maybe it was a decade ago in terms of performance. The velocity with which people move through the system has definitely increased.”

With the New York-Penn League dissolved — and with it, former short-season Red Sox affiliate Lowell — Salem will be the first stop for prospects outside of the complex-based Gulf Coast League.

“In Low A, just after you get drafted, a lot of times Boston or the major league affiliate might want to keep you there a little bit longer,” Lawrence said. “Once you start bumping up, your climb to the big leagues is accelerated. So I think there’s a lot of pros from a player standpoint. I think our fans should be excited to see these guys.”

No leagues will be announced officially until all the affiliates sign their licensing agreements, but you can likely expect the Sox to land in a 12-team circuit with familiar opponents that also have dropped down a level (Lynchburg, Fayetteville, Myrtle Beach) as well as some of the former South Atlantic League teams such as Columbia, Delmarva and Kannapolis.

“We have some guesses, but not current knowledge,” White said. “I think when it all comes out, you’ll see that proximity is very important in all this.” White, who oversees the club from Boston, stressed that nothing operationally will change with the new classification.

“We’ve had a very good relationship with the city and the civic center in Salem,” he said. “It’s been a tough year because we had no revenue other than what Allen and his staff were able to generate with various events and food service surrounding those events. “It’s been tough, but we’ve managed to keep everybody in the boat, so to speak, as far as the staff for the whole year. We’re eager to start baseball.”

The last time we saw professional baseball at Salem Memorial Ballpark, we were being awed by the power of Boston Red Sox prospect Triston Casas.

For a whopping two games.

Now rated as the No. 1 prospect in the organization, Casas spent almost the entire 2019 season at Low A Greenville, where he smashed 19 home runs over 118 games to tie for third in the South Atlantic League. Then he was promoted to Salem on Sept. 1, where he collected two hits in his first game and hit a majestic home run in his second.

And then the regular season ended.

On Wednesday, when the Boston Red Sox officially extended invitations to their four minor league affiliates, there were two major components of local interest:

1. Salem was among the four.

2. Salem was moving from High A to Low A.

The first one was expected. The Sox are owned by Fenway Sports Group, which is a subsidiary of the Boston Red Sox ownership group. The team signed a 10-year ballpark lease extension with the city in 2015. Salem never was in serious jeopardy of losing its affiliation, even as Major League Baseball cut the minors from 160 teams to 120 in a massive cost-saving restructuring.

The second component, though, was news that might have concerned diehard baseball fans who want to see the best talent. It shouldn’t. A move to Low A actually could be a good thing.

“Going to Low A really just gives us an opportunity to get first crack at the prospects that Boston has,” Salem general manager Allen Lawrence said. “I think that’s exciting, and I think that’s going to be exciting for our fans.

“While there’s still a lot of hype coming from these players after the Major League Baseball draft, we’re now going to get the first crack at them. We don’t have to sit back and wait for a year and see how they progress.”

And they could stay here longer. Mookie Betts played 76 games at Greenville before his scintillating 51-game stint with Salem in 2013. Anthony Rizzo played 85 games at Low A compared to 84 with Salem.

And then there’s Casas, who was named Boston’s 2019 minor league player of the year at age 19. There’s a decent chance he would have started 2020 at Salem had the season been played, but there’s almost no chance he would have stayed long enough to log as many games here as he did for Greenville.

“You’re trying to get them as fast as possible to the major league level because there’s economic advantages to that,” said Jeff White, the managing director of the Salem Red Sox. “I think it’s fair to say it’s become more of a younger man’s game than maybe it was a decade ago in terms of performance. The velocity with which people move through the system has definitely increased.”

With the New York-Penn League dissolved — and with it, former short-season Red Sox affiliate Lowell — Salem will be the first stop for prospects outside of the complex-based Gulf Coast League.

“In Low A, just after you get drafted, a lot of times Boston or the major league affiliate might want to keep you there a little bit longer,” Lawrence said. “Once you start bumping up, your climb to the big leagues is accelerated. So I think there’s a lot of pros from a player standpoint. I think our fans should be excited to see these guys.”

No leagues will be announced officially until all the affiliates sign their licensing agreements, but you can likely expect the Sox to land in a 12-team circuit with familiar opponents that also have dropped down a level (Lynchburg, Fayetteville, Myrtle Beach) as well as some of the former South Atlantic League teams such as Columbia, Delmarva and Kannapolis.

“We have some guesses, but not current knowledge,” White said. “I think when it all comes out, you’ll see that proximity is very important in all this.” White, who oversees the club from Boston, stressed that nothing operationally will change with the new classification.

“We’ve had a very good relationship with the city and the civic center in Salem,” he said. “It’s been a tough year because we had no revenue other than what Allen and his staff were able to generate with various events and food service surrounding those events. “It’s been tough, but we’ve managed to keep everybody in the boat, so to speak, as far as the staff for the whole year. We’re eager to start baseball.”